CBD Oil for Panic Attacks: A Better Option?

A Better Option: Exploring the Use of CBD Oil for Panic Attacks

Mental health conditions are a growing concern in America. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States, or roughly 47 million people, experience mental illness each year. Most mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, are treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and unfortunately, many people’s conditions are resistant to these medications.

Americans are interested in finding alternative approaches to help with their  mental health concerns, and they’re exploring CBD products (and CBD oil in particular) as a potential treatment.

CBD Oil for Panic Attacks: Just the Facts

Panic attacks are intense episodes of fear, anxiety, and worry, along with various physical symptoms such as shortness of breath and an increased heart rate. Researchers have identified pathways in the brain that control these emotions, which CBD also influence. Clinical studies and current evidence supports the use of CBD oil for panic attacks due to its anti-anxiety effects; however, more human studies are necessary.

What are Panic Attacks?

A piece written for YourTango states, “Nobody quite understands what it is like to suffer from an anxiety or panic disorder unless they have experienced it themselves. From the shortness of breathe, the racing heart, sweaty palms, and severe nausea, having a panic attack is no walk in the park.”

Panic attacks are episodes of debilitating anxiety and fear that come on suddenly and without any known trigger. They are a horrible, scary experience. Many people confuse them for life-threatening conditions like heart attacks. Typically, each attack lasts ten minutes or less.

Common Symptoms Include:

  • Palpitations and increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Shortness of breath or choking sensation 
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea or digestive upset
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Depersonalization (feeling like they are not experiencing reality)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying

Panic Disorder

Some people will only experience one or two panic attacks in their lives, whereas others will have numerous. When a person has frequent attacks, it is referred to as panic disorder. 

Panic disorder is a disabling condition that affects approximately 2-3% of Americans. In addition to the symptoms of the actual panic attacks, a person will also continually worry about having another episode, worry about the consequences of the attack, or they may even change their behaviors. For example, a person may avoid social gatherings or public speaking, for fear they could have an attack in public and become embarrassed for it. For many people, this is the worst part of the disorder.

Risk Factors for Panic Disorder

In most cases, symptoms of a panic disorder begin when a person is in their late teens or early 20s. Like with most mental health conditions, females are more likely to be diagnosed with panic disorder than men. The cause of panic disorder is not entirely understood, but some factors may increase the risk, including:

  • A family history of panic attacks or panic disorder
  • A significant life stressor such as divorce or the death of a loved one
  • A trauma such as sexual assault, death of a child, or childhood trauma
  • Major life changes such as moving or divorce
  • Cigarette smoking or excessive caffeine intake

Conventional Treatments for Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder 

The current standard treatments are long-term SSRIs or anti-anxiety medications, which commonly cause numerous side effects and are only moderately effective. Fewer than half of people with panic disorder resolve their panic attacks with these medications. This means new approaches to treating this condition are desperately needed.

CBD Oil for Panic Attacks

CBD products are becoming popular among Americans who are seeking better approaches for medical conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety symptoms, and sleep issues. Currently, researchers are exploring all the potential health benefits of CBD products, including the use of CBD oil for panic attacks, symptoms of anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

Fear, panic, and anxiety are prominent symptoms of panic disorder. Also, it’s common for people with panic attacks to take anti-anxiety medications. This means that managing stress is an integral part of treating panic attacks.

Can Using Cannabis Cause Anxiety?

It is well known that smoking or vaping marijuana can create high levels of anxiety, paranoia, and anxiety attacks. This is due to marijuana’s tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, which is the psychoactive cannabinoid that also creates or worsens anxiety.

Marijuana and CBD products are derived from different strains of the cannabis sativa plant. This is an important point. CBD products are created using the industrial hemp plant, which contains only trace amounts of THC. Many CBD products use a purified form of CBD called CBD isolate, which contains virtually no THC.  

There is a growing body of evidence to support that cannabidiol — the cannabinoids in CBD — may be effective for treating anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.

The Effects of CBD Oil on Panic Attacks

Researchers are still exploring exactly how CBD works in the brain and how it affects anxiety and panic attacks. They have found two systems in the brain that are likely a big part of why people have a positive outcome using CBD oil for panic attacks: serotonin receptors and the endocannabinoid system.

Serotonin Receptors and CBD

In animal testing, cannabinoids have been shown to activate the serotonin receptor (5-HT1a) in several parts of the brain. This is the same target of SSRI drugs, which are the most common medications prescribed for people with panic attacks. These studies found that CBD was effective in reducing the amount of panic and anxiety in animals.

The Endocannabinoid System

The cannabinoids in CBD, including anandamide, stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. These receptors are found throughout our brains and bodies and are involved in emotions, behaviors, memory, decision making, pain, and inflammation.  

Research shows that when these receptors are stimulated with CBD oil, it lowers a person’s level of fear and anxiety. Therefore, the use of CBD oil for panic attacks is optimistic.

Clinical Studies on CBD Oil for Panic Attacks

The research on CBD and how it affects  mental health and mood disorders is just beginning. To date, most of the research on CBD for panic attacks has been conducted on animals. However, there are several human and animal studies that support the anxiolytic-like effect of CBD in other mental health conditions.

A clinical trial on using CBD for social anxiety disorder, which is another condition with marked fear and anxiety, found that CBD reduces anxiety and likely affects the activity of the limbic and paralimbic areas of the brain. These two areas are involved in fear and emotions.

Other human studies have found that lower levels of the cannabinoid anandamide are associated with PTSD. Much like panic disorder, people with PTSD also experience panic attacks. 

These findings suggest that CBD decreases fear and panic levels and may help reduce the fear and panic seen in panic disorder. 

A Summary of What the Research Says

Cannabidiol, which is found in CBD oil, is contained in the extract of the industrial hemp plant. It has been researched for its use in treating panic attacks due to its anti-anxiety properties through serotonin receptors, the endocannabinoid system, and its effect on the limbic system.

Animal models and human clinical trials support that CBD products are a promising therapy for panic disorder. However, more clinical trials concerning CBD oil for panic attacks are needed to support its efficacy and determine what the ideal dosage is.

Where Does the FDA Stand on CBD‘s Legality?

Cannabis-derived products containing THC are illegal at the federal level in the U.S. However, given that CBD products contain only trace amounts of THC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  has approved the sale and use of them in the United States. What’s more, the FDA has even approved a prescription CBD product, Epidolex, for certain types of treatment-resistant seizures.

As more positive research is published on CBD, it is within reason to believe that the FDA will approve more uses for CBD products. 

Although CBD products are available for purchase, the FDA does not regulate them at this time. This means that lower-quality products or unpure products can make their way into the marketplace. Make sure any CBD products you purchase come from a company that uses third-party testing to ensure you are using a safe, high-quality product. 

Final Thoughts on Using CBD for Panic Attacks

If you suffer from panic attacks and are not finding relief with current treatment options, you may be interested in using CBD oil for your panic attacks. It is recommended that you always speak with your doctor first to see if it is right for you and to make sure it won’t conflict with any medications you are currently taking.